Is the Vaquita porpoise extinct?

24 January 2007 | News story

Cetacean experts of IUCN’s Species Survivial Commission are meeting this week
to review the status of the world’s whales, dolphins and porpoises

In December 2006, scientists reported that the Baiji, a freshwater dolphin found only in China ’s Yangtze River was possibly extinct. An extensive search failed to record a single animal. Will the Vaquita, a porpoise found only in the Gulf of California , Mexico , and now one of the world’s most Critically Endangered cetaceans, follow the same fate?

Cetacean experts of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and its Species Survival Commission (SSC) are meeting this week in La Jolla , California to discuss the status of the Vaquita porpoise and review the conservation status of all cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises). Run by the IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group, experts will look at the evidence and advise which cetaceans are on the route to extinction, or alive and well.

The evaluation feeds into the Global Mammal Assessment, an assessment of the 5,500 known mammal species being carried out by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The results will also be part of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – the world’s most authoritative inventory of the status of the world’s plants and animals, and a critical conservation tool.

The status of cetaceans is relatively well known but needs to be continually reviewed to ensure that conservation efforts are effectively targeted and prioritized. Global warming, noise pollution, and reduced availability of prey that were hardly considered as threats to cetaceans in the past are now of great concern. Familiar threats such as accidental killing in fishing gear and exposure to toxic chemicals appear to be intensifying. It is likely that cetaceans have already been eradicated in some areas where fishing has been intensive, and the insidious effects of toxic contaminants may have taken a toll that will never be well understood and fully documented.

The workshop’s conclusions will be released in a report in the spring of 2007.

In conjunction with the meeting, a public forum is taking place on Wednesday, 24 January. Journalists and the public are invited to join 50 of the world's marine mammal experts and gain insights about the Vaquita conservation status, and learn more about threats to other whales and dolphins, efforts underway to save them, and interview the experts.

The forum:

When : Wednesday, January 24, 2007 , 6:30-8:30 P.M.
Where : Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
2300 Expedition Way , La Jolla
RSVP : Birch Aquarium at Scripps at +1-858-546-5678.